Evolutionary synthesis in the social sciences and humanities


Cultural change constitutes a Darwinian evolutionary process, comprising the three Darwinian principles of variation, selection and inheritance. Yet cultural evolution is not identical to genetic evolution: the sources of variation, the forms of selection and the modes of inheritance found in cultural evolution may be very different to those found in genetic evolution. Here, I review research conducted in the last 30 years that has built a Darwinian theory of cultural change by borrowing the rigorous, quantitative methods developed by biologists to explain biological evolution, yet simultaneously acknowledging the differences between cultural and genetic evolution. I argue that the quantitative nature of Darwinian methods (e.g. statistical analysis, formal models, laboratory experiments) has resulted in a significantly better understanding of cultural phenomena than many traditional non-evolutionary, non-scientific approaches to cultural change in the social sciences and humanities. Evolutionary theory also provides a synthetic framework within which different branches of the social sciences and humanities may be integrated, equivalent to the ‘evolutionary synthesis’ that integrated the biological sciences in the early 20th century.

Cultural Science Journal 3. https://doi.org/10.5334/csci.24